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Two interventions to increase the physical activity of people with multiple sclerosis fare equally well

Research Activities, April 2009

Exercise may help slow the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS), an incurable autoimmune disease that causes fatigue, poor balance, and muscle weakness. These symptoms, however, often discourage people with MS from exercising regularly.

Matthew A. Plow, Ph.D., of Brown University, and colleagues studied the effects 2 exercise programs had on 39 patients with MS to determine how the programs affected the patients' attitudes toward exercise and themselves. Surprising the researchers, four one-on-one sessions with a physical therapist were as well-received as a 7-week group education program. The researchers expected the group sessions to be more effective in increasing physical activity because they incorporated behavioral change theory. Participants may have succeeded equally in both interventions because they had a strong desire to please their instructors or because their physical therapists helped remove some of the barriers to exercise they had formerly experienced. After the interventions, both groups had less fatigue, improved strength, lowered body fat percentages, and improved resting heart rates. Participants who were physically active before the intervention improved 51 to 73 percent after completing the exercise programs compared with those who did not have a history of physical activity.

What did not improve was the participants' belief that they could overcome obstacles to exercise regularly or their expectations that they would be able to complete a 16-week exercise program on their own. The authors suggest that interventions to increase physical activity should include opportunities to exercise, so these perceived obstacles diminish. Social support for exercise from family members and friends is also necessary to ensure regular exercise occurs. This study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS15554).

See "Multiple sclerosis: Impact of physical activity on psychosocial constructs," by Dr. Plow, Virgil Mathiowetz, Ph.D., O.T.R., and Linda Resnick, Ph.D., O.C.S., P.T., in the November/December 2008 American Journal of Health Behavior 32(6), pp. 614-626.

Current as of April 2009
Internet Citation: Two interventions to increase the physical activity of people with multiple sclerosis fare equally well: Research Activities, April 2009. April 2009. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.